Manila Bay and the New Definition of "People Power"

If there is one good thing that came out from the start of the Manila Bay rehabilitation project, that would be the new meaning for "people power." 

Manila Bay is one of the most captivating natural harbors in the world. With the Port of Manila and multiple industrial estates located along its shores, it is right at the center of the most important economic hub in the Philippines. Its waters are the source of livelihood for fishermen and millions of people who live in the cities and towns along its shores. It witnessed some of the fiercest naval battles during the Spanish-American War, when the American fleet led by Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish armada, and World War II, when the Americans and the Japanese engaged each other, from the Corregidor and other heavily fortified islands of the bay to their naval vessels. Of course, the best asset of the bay is its world famous sunset, which is the subject of postcards, photos, videos and works of art.

Unfortunately, Manila Bay has deteriorated through the years, no thanks to uncontrolled rapid industrialization, pollution of its waters and those coming from rivers and creeks that flow into it, poor urban planning and lack of proper sewage treatment facilities and drainage systems, and most Filipinos sorely lacking and discipline and sense of regard for their surroundings when it comes to disposing their garbage and sewage. Its beaches and waters are littered with plastic bottles, plastic bags, used diapers, used sanitary napkins, soda cans and other types of garbage, aside from dead animals and . The bay's water quality deteriorated, no thanks to garbage, industrial waste and human waste being dumped into it. Manila Bay foul odor due to its polluted waters gave it a notorious nickname: "Metro Manila's largest septic tank."

The Duterte administration, having flexed its muscles and exercised political will by rehabilitating the resort island of Boracay, identified Manila Bay as one of the areas that will undergo a similar measure. The rehabilitation project, led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, was launched last January 27, 2019, with thousands of volunteers coming from all sectors of society coming together to clean the beach and waters of the bay, from the back of Luneta and the United States Embassy in Manila to the CCP Complex and SM Mall of Asia Complex in Pasay City. Alongside it, the rehabilitation of rivers and creeks emptying into Manila Bay has started, removing silt and garbage from them and their tributaries and the illegal settlers who built structures and other forms of obstruction on them. Business establishments disposing garbage and sewage into the bay and the bodies of water feeding it have been identified and ordered closed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Laguna Lake Development Authority and other concerned government agencies.

The day after the launch of the rehabilitation project and the massive cleanup drive was done, various photos of Manila Bay's beaches and waters appeared on traditional and social media. The dark sand beach, which used to be buried under tons of garbage, has resurfaced and the waters of the bay is now cleaner, allowing people who want to enjoy the view and see the sunset walkalong the shore for the first time in years. Some individuals continue to voluntarily clean the beach, but there are still those who have no discipline who still indiscriminately dispose their garbage on it and the waters, perhaps expecting that someone else will pick it up later on.

Take note, however, that the Manila Bay rehabilitation project will be an exercise in futility if the rehabilitation of Pasig River, Tullahan River, Paranaque River, Marilao River and other bodies of waters flowing into it and their tributaries and sources, such as Pasig River's San Juan and Marikina Rivers, and Laguna de Bay, will not be carried out with the same eagerness and level of political will. It is also high time to crack down on indiscriminate disposal of garbage and sewage by individuals and businesses, imposing heavy fines amounting to tens of thousands of pesos, jail time of a minimum of six months, community service of a minimum of six months, and, in case of individuals and business owners, corporal punishment such as public caning as penalty. Manila Bay and its surrounding bodies of water will be polluted repeatedly without these accompanying courses of action being taken by the government.

If there is one good thing that came out from the start of the Manila Bay rehabilitation project, that would be the new meaning for "people power." In the past, "people power" was described as a sudden assembly of individuals that was backed by the holders of political and economic power from within and outside of the Philippines to express their grievances, force regime change and install a new government, only to later on fail because the desired changes did not come to fruition. Last Sunday's "people power" was different, for no political and economic force called on people to voluntarily go out on the streets. All that the thousands of who came out to support the government drive wanted to achieve was to start the process of restoring Manila Bay to its old beauty and glory, the impact of which was immediately felt the day after, although it requires complementing rehabilitation projects, full implementation of the law, and inculcating the value of discipline and sense of regard for cleanliness and surroundings on all Filipinos for it to truly bear fruit and be called truly successful.

Last Sunday's new "people power" should not be the last. More of it must come to act on things that can be done as a way of helping the government maintain a clean, safe and orderly country. The new "people power" at Manila Bay, not those that occurred in 1986 and 2001, should be the one highlighted on the history books, for it showed that it is truly possible for the Filipino people to come together voluntarily without a major force backing them to achieve a common goal that will be for the benefit of everybody and the Philippines, in general.

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About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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